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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Tuesday Talent: Reality is elusive and this is only my view

William Gale Gedney (1932 - 1989)

From the Duke University web site:

William Gedney made two trips to eastern Kentucky. In the summer of 1964, he traveled to the Blue Diamond Mining Camp in Leatherwood, Kentucky and stayed for awhile at the home of Boyd Couch, head of the local United Mine Workers Union. Then Gedney met Willie Cornett, who was recently laid off from the mines, his wife Vivian, and their twelve children. He soon moved in with the Cornett family, staying with them for eleven days. Twenty-two of the photographs from Gedney's 1964 visit to Kentucky were included in his one-man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (December 1968 through March 1969). Gedney corresponded with the Cornetts over many years, and finally returned to Kentucky to visit and photograph the family again in 1972.

In his notebooks Gedney writes about these lives he witnessed and photographed, the complicated relationships within such large families, the importance of the automobile. Gedney made notes about a creating a book dummy of the Kentucky work, but no completed dummy exists in the archive. With the exception of one image, the Kentucky photographs were never published during William Gedney's lifetime.

Gedney sold the one photo in 1977, apparently for $70.00 since he sent $35.00 to the Cornetts indicating, "I made myself a promise that if I ever sold any of the pictures I took of your family I would split any money with you."

Gedney's photography reveals the poverty in which the Cornetts and their neighours lived, but that was not his primary aim. He was chronicling people of a time and place. Poverty was part of that and most definitely helped to shape their lives, but Gedney's photography did not make it the focus, rather content and structure were. This is something that his notebooks help to elaborate.

Amazon has some copies of "What Was True: The Photographs and Notebooks of William Gedney." One of the good used ones is on my list to buy some day.

The Duke University web site has hundreds of photos, unfortunately they are not presented in any consistent way and, other than Vivian and Willie, no one is identified. However, in Gedney's notebook he lists:

The entire site is worth scrolling through if only because it does contain more than a few gems. Shown below are 2 comparison sets from 1964 and 1972 (clicking on the photos will take you to the page for each one where larger photos are available.)

The family in 1964
Using the list - Junior is the boy with his arms folded, Ronnie is at the far right background in the chair, Whyne is in front of Junior, Willma Jean is to the left of her mother, the rest are more difficult to identify


The family in 1972
Everyone is in approximately the same position, but spouses and grandchildren are present. William Gedney is sitting on the stairs


Willie Junior 1964


Willie Junior 1972


And a few random photos

Ronnie 1972


Glen or Ken 1972


Ronnie 1972


Whyne with son (?) 1972


Willie and Willie Junior 1972

Vivian and Bernice 1964

Vivian died in 1994, but in October 2010 Willie was still alive. When someone requested an interview with the family he indicated that he preferred not for privacy reasons.

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